Here's some "tongue in cheek" Grammar Advice and Dangling Modifiers

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Scholarly Writing

APA Formatting

Final Draft Checklist 

 Common Mistakes



The first thing you need to know about Writing is the general process.  Here it is:


Write - revise - write - revise - write - revise - write - revise - write - proof-read - edit


Know the difference between revision and proof-readingRevision refers to content.  Proof-reading refers to rules (punctuation, spelling, etc.)

Revision considers the paper as a whole and how it fits together.  Proof-reading considers one sentence at a time.


How to:  WRITE

Just start.  Type as fast as you can without regard to sentence structure or punctuation.  Get the ideas going.  You can edit later.  Ideas will emerge if you just keep writing.

How to:  REVISE

Read what you've written as if you didn't write it.  Does it make sense?  Read it aloud.  Are the arguments sound?  Does the paper flow from one point to another smoothly?  Are your statements properly supported?  Consider the paper (or section) as a whole and how it fits together.  If changes are necessary, rearrange paragraphs, add explanations or illustrations, take out unclear language.  Have someone else read what you've written (someone whose judgment you trust and who will offer constructive criticism) and point out areas that are confusing or unclear.  Remember, revision means re-thinking!


Make sure spell-check and grammar-check are turned on.  Address every green line and red line indicated.  Read each sentence aloud (very important).  If you stumble over a sentence or if something sounds weird, find out why and fix it.  Did you leave out a word (happens all the time!) or use a word incorrectly?  Keep an eye out for words that are used incorrectly.  Spell-check will not flag the difference between its and it's or among their, there, and they're.  Know your habits.  Do you often use than when you mean then?  Let someone else read it.  A pair of fresh eyes will often catch something you missed.  Ask them to tell you if/where they get lost, if a section is boring or awkward, as well as where you missed a comma or misspelled a word.

How to:  EDIT

Meticulously fix all of these details.  Use a dictionary.  Use a thesaurus.  Use your APA manual to bring into subjection every stray period and comma.  Remember:  details matter.


True Story


I once had an undergraduate student who was working on a research study.  The first few times I met with him, we would go over what he had written, and I would show him things that needed to be corrected/revised/rewritten, etc.  He was becoming very frustrated and we finally had to stop and deal with his angst.  This was a very enlightening conversation for me.  As he vented, I realized that up to this point, every writing assignment he had ever done had consisted of writing something, turning it in, getting a grade, and going on to something else.  He had never had to revise anything.  He thought I was being punitive by requiring so many changes and by being so picky about sentence structure, commas, leaving out his opinions in certain sections, etc.  I think I startled him by laughing (as the light bulb went on over my head).  I explained to him that a research project is never "right" until you are done.  There will be revisions identified every time we meet, and that this is the "normal" process and not a personal affront.  At the end of our talk, he was visibly relieved.  I hope that you, like my undergraduate student, will continue your practice of revision and editing, never assuming that what you write is "good enough," and always improving.  Remember that your written communication is your statement of content, but also your statement of credibility.




Writing Hints



First of all, set your Word document defaults!!  My Word!


In your Word document:




Writing Style (halfway down or so)


Set Writing Style to "Grammar & Style"

Under "Grammar and style options," and "Require,"

Choose "always," "inside," and "2"

Then under "Grammar,"  check every single box!


If your version of Word is different, Google how to set your preferences.

Now that you have Spell-check and Grammar-check enabled, be sure to right click on EVERY green line and make the necessary changes in grammar and on EVERY red line and make the necessary changes in spelling.


Note:  This does not eliminate the need for proof-reading.  For example, spell-check identifies only those words that are misspelled, not those that are used incorrectly, such as 'their' and 'there.'  Both words are spelled correctly, but in context, only one can be correct.


Word choice

We tend to have favorite words.  Used repeatedly, sentences become choppy or boring.  Use the thesaurus feature in Word.  Right-click on any word and choose "Synonym" from the drop-down menu.  Also beware of beginning multiple sentences in the same way, such as "Then he . . ." or "[The author] said . . ."  Speaking of "the author," try to avoid referring to yourself as "This author . . ." to avoid using "I" and "me," etc.  Reconstruct your sentence to use direct statements.







Scholarly Writing

Scholarly writing is different than other types of writing.



It doesn't have to be pompous (Ex: Have we to conclude we may communicate with whomever we please?)

It shouldn't be informal (Ex: So, we can just talk to whoever the hell we wanna talk to?)

Examples above from Geoffrey Pullum



Bresler, L. (1995). Ethnography, phenomenology and action research in music education. Quarterly Journal of Music Teaching and Learning, 6(3).


The article referenced above is a good example of clear and concise writing.  The author refrains from flowery language, overly long sentences, and unsupported opinions.  Take the time to find and read this example.



Speaking of unsupported opinions, David Coleman (lead architect of the Common Core Standards) spoke about the ubiquitous use in the teaching of writing in English classrooms of "personal writing . . . the exposition of a personal opinion . . . the presentation of a personal matter."

The only problem, forgive me for saying this so bluntly, the only problem with those two forms of writing is as you grow up in this world you realize people really don’t give a sh– about what you feel or what you think. What they instead care about is can you make an argument with evidence, is there something verifiable behind what you’re saying or what you think or feel that you can demonstrate to me. It is rare in a working environment that someone says, “Johnson, I need a market analysis by Friday but before that I need a compelling account of your childhood.” That is rare. It is equally rare in college by the way.

So, in your pursuit of scholarly writing, keep that in mind!

When you feel free to pepper your content with your personal bias or opinion, you lose credibility with your reader. 

Be objective in the content of the body of your paper.

If you need to draw your own conclusions, those go in the Discussion or Conclusion section at the end and should be made clear to your reader that these are your own opinions.


Avoid casual writing, such as using first person, contractions, expressions ("slow as Christmas"), unsupported opinions, biased statements.


Do not personify (giving human characteristics to inanimate objects).  Example:  "This article shows . . ."


Use quotations and italics properly when referring to titles  Use this chart.


Use explicit language.  Be clear.  Avoid general terms, such as "good," "bad," and "ugly."  State specifically what you mean so the reader does not need to interpret.




Phrases that show a high degree of confidence in sources or findings:

  • "great deal of support"

  • "overwhelming evidence"

  • "strong evidence"

  • "results of a definitive study"

  • "widely reported in the research literature"

  • "seldom disputed"

  • "seems very likely that"

Phrases that show a low degree of confidence in sources or findings:

  • "preliminary findings suggest"

  • "based on a pilot study"

  • "weak evidence to date"

  • "it appears that"

  • "suggests the possibility that"



Final Draft Checklist



Did you . . .

____  include references?

____  read the paper aloud to hear any mistakes? Don't skip this one even if you have read it silently 100 times.

____  run spell check and grammar check?

____  avoid contractions and abbreviations?

____  avoid using action verbs with inanimate objects: (“This article tells us little.”)?

____  put quotation marks outside periods and commas?

____  use italics for complete works and quotation marks for parts of works or short works?

____  use italics for foreign expressions not in standard use?

____  fix hanging “this” by adding a noun?

____  format long quotations (40 words or more) as block quotes?

____  insert page numbers?

____  follow all style requirements? (APA)

____  keep I (first person pronouns) to a minimum?

____  avoid us, we, you (other pronouns)





"Where I Spend Most of My Red Ink"


Use Wikipedia as a starting point for general information.  There is often a good bibliography included at the end of the Wikipedia article.  However, DO NOT cite Wikipedia as a reliable source because ANYONE can write ANYTHING in the Wikipedia format and you cannot count on its reliability.


General APA formatting.  Two spaces between sentences, use a title on the first page of text, period goes after the citation, not all words in a title are capitalized in the reference section, right-justifying the page numbers, correct running head


Too many direct quotes.  Don't fill your paper with quotations, providing your content by using others' words.  Read everything, synthesize, paraphrase.  


You should quote from a source only:

  • to show that an authority supports your point
  • to present a position or argument to critique or comment on; that is, you are going to analyze the statement itself
  • to include especially moving or historically significant language or when the wording is particularly unique
  • to present a particularly well-stated passage whose meaning would be lost or changed if paraphrased or summarized
  • when the person who said it is the one you are studying

You should summarize or paraphrase when

  • what you want from the source is the idea expressed, and not the specific language used to express it
  • you can express in fewer words what the key point of a source is

Inconsistent use of verb tense - don't mix past tense with present tense, etc.  Pick one and stick to it.


Incorrect use of verb tense; for example, when verb tense agrees with a noun in a prepositional phrase, but not with the subject of the sentence

Example:  Neither of the two compositions is a symphony. ('compositions' is part of a prepositional phrase)

Here are some more examples:

Faulty parallelism:  each idea in a series must match  Ex:  "The horses need to be groomed, watered, fed, and clean their stalls."  Revised:  The horses need to be groomed, watered, fed, and their stalls need to be cleaned."


Unclear pronoun reference:  be clear to what or to whom you are referring when using pronouns Example:  Because Senator Martin is less interested in the environment than in economic development, he sometimes neglects it. (What exactly is he neglecting??)


Contractions - don't use them in a formal paper ;-) 


Commas - use them!!! (another reason to check those green lines!), including the Oxford comma.  Here is a guide to commas and other punctuation marks:


Who vs. whom - if you can replace it with "he" or "she," then it should be "who"; "him" or "her" substitutes for "whom"


"Should" and "must" - If it is your opinion, back it up.  If it is someone else's idea, cite it.


Personification - avoid action verbs with inanimate objects: “This article tells us little.”  That article did not TELL you anything!


"Some say" or "It is said" phrases - who says??  In a formal paper, do not make such vague statements.

Homonyms (more specifically, 'homophones' - sound the same, spelled differently)  Here are the most common errors:






Who Cares About Those Picky Details?



"The Orff method is founded on four principals."

A "principal" is an administrator at a school.  The correct spelling should have been "principle."  Now read that sentence from the point of view of a person judging your level of education and knowing what a "principal" is.  Oops!










Although not all commas make such a crucial difference in meaning, here is an illustration of the necessity of the humble comma.  The following sentence is interpreted by means of punctuation in two very different ways.


Woman without her man is nothing




1.  Woman; without her, man is nothing.


2.  Woman, without her man, is nothing.



Misplaced modifiers


Need a good chuckle?  Check this link:

How to Write Good

"Witnesses described the thief as a six-foot-tall man with a mustache weighing 190 pounds."

Wow - that's a heavy mustache!

Then there's this one

Come on, people - punctuation saves lives!!







"Let's eat Grandma!"

"Let's eat, Grandma!"

Details matter.  Your credibility is at stake here.


What if I had written this:


Your credibility is at steak here.



You could rightly have wondered whether


1. I am fit to be your teacher

2. I am a careless writer

3. my mind is on dinner


In any case, you were distracted from my message.

Created and maintained by Vicky V. Johnson